“A Note From The Desk of Divine Grace”
I have been asked by so many to recount the goings-on of this last Halloween, that I thought, “Why the Hell am I being so tight-lipped about this?” and share it with you all. I know that I tend to be long-winded on a good day, and write a Magna Carta on a bad one, so please be patient as this shall surely be a little of column A. and a little of column B. (Divine Mister D… please edit however you see fit!)
I was booked for an Off-Broadway show on Friday, October 30th back in August. I thought, “GREAT! I now have justification to fly up to NYC for Halloween (the greatest city on the planet in which to celebrate “Gay Christmas”) so I’ll do up some “Hocus Pocus” drag properly like I’ve never attempted that INCREDIBLY DETAILED AND DIFFICULT COSTUME before, and lipsync “I Put a Spell on You” as only someone who has studied Miss Midler as long as I have could.
Well, shortly before my appearance, the show was cancelled in an effort to move it to a more suitable theater until a later date. I was devastated, but lifted by the notion that, no matter what, I already had travel and accommodations covered for a mini vacation in Manhattan. The fabric and hair had already been ordered, so I thought, “What the Hell?” Let’s do this!
Now, before I go any further, I must confess that I had spent the last month in a terrible state. I was feeling pretty dark. I had been costuming a show for a cruiseline and had worked thirty-two 12-18 hour days STRAIGHT. As a matter of fact, at one point, I had worked a 22 hour day and then was forced to travel home for 4 hours after. The exciting chance for me to complete this work in France (I’ve never been to Europe) was ripped away from me as I was packing my bags just as I learned about the cancellation of my New York show. Add to that a host of family issues, and I was fit to be tied…and burned at the stake! I was a very unhappy queen. In tears, I told my partner, “I really feel like nothing is working out for me. I REALLY need a moment to shine. It’s been so long, I’ve forgotten how that even feels.”
Then, a week before my NYC trip, I got sick. REALLY sick. I was bedridden for a solid week with what I can only surmise was either Kennel Cough or Dutch Elm Disease, so my time sewing on this incredibly complicated costume and wig design was major stunted.
I managed to pull the costume and hair together in two days, (and you Betteheads know that a Winifred Sanderson costume requires sewing, beading, rhinestoning, A LOT of handcrafted artwork, airbrushing, distressing, and TOIL.) I managed, because somehow everything happened without a hitch. Finally, a light at the end of the tunnel.
After sewing and performing on top of my daytime job (and without sleep for FIFTY HOURS) I was at the airport ready to board the plane when suddenly I was stopped by TSA and told that I was being detained for a “suspicious package”. Apparently the 18″x 18″ plain unmarked box containing my wig was a threat to national security, so I was detained for another 4 hours until a Winifred Sanderson wig could be evaluated and labeled fit for flight.
Long story short (too late) I made it to the Waldorf-Astoria in full Winnie drag. (The best I’ve ever attempted, if I do say so myself.) I made my way to the cocktail hour and nervously mingled with people whose bank accounts and lifestyles shadowed me into abject poverty until fellow Bettehead Matthew Parker walked in, nipples and carved abdominals first (he was perfectly- and-appropriately-dressed as a Ken Doll. For those of you who have seen him, the costume was hardly a stretch. We both relaxed, had a drink, and eventually made our way into the ballroom.
We were seated in the balcony and sat before our appetizer–neither of us with any desire to eat. We were both too excited, and I was wearing false teeth that both made me look like a snowplow and got in the way of any possibility of my actually chewing the tuna tartar in font of me. Matthew and I went downstairs to see if we could get any closer to the action, when I realized that he was doing his damnedest to get me within eyeshot of Her Majesty.
Within minutes, we were. A lady at Bette’sÂ table saw me and pointed, and the brunette she was talking to turned around. It was Kathy Minims (Mister D: Najimy LOL). She excitedly motioned for us to come over. Kathy Minims was as sweet as you’d ever hope for and seemed genuinely impressed by the costume. She said, “She’s got to see this!”, grabbed my wrist, and dragged meÂ around the table for Bette to see. Bette was in conversation, so Kathy yelled, “Bette! Bette! BETTE! BETTE MIDLER!” Bette turned around, saw me, and looked stunned. She then started making buck teeth mannerisms and motioned for us to come over.
From that point, as any of you who have met her know, it all becomes this weird blur. You start walking this bizarre line of trying not to totally lose your shit, play it cool, and worship at the same time. All I remember is her taking my wrist and saying (with that tiny delicate pointed finger that she uses) “You know, I’ve seen a lot of these, and yours is the best I’ve ever seen!” Now, I don’t even know if that’s true or not, but my life as a costumer and Bette Midler impersonator now rests on her seal of approval.
I mentioned that I had been impersonating her for years (maybe not such a great choice as her husband and daughter were smiling and yet somehow staring at me as if I had two heads and was radioactive) and the rest was just me in a daze. I do remember pictures and video being taken (THANK YOU MATTHEW AND CHARLOTTE!) and all the while (and always in charge of her image) Bette kept telling Kathy (I guess we are on on a first name basis now?) to “MAKE THE FACE! MAKE THE FACE!” alluding to Mary Sanderson’s strokey downturned lip.
I couldn’t believe it. I was wedged between Bette Midler and Kathy Minims in full gotdamned “Hocus Pocus” drag.
Finally, Bette said, “Alright, let’s take the selfie”, and of course, I was too flustered to get my phone to operate properly. She became impatient and said, “Okay, maybe later.” My heart dropped a little, I apologized, and she said, “No! I’ll meet you guys after the show.”
We watched the show, she accepted her award, others were given out, and then I was asked to make my way to the stage for the costume contest. I thought it was such treat and bonus, until Matthew said, “um…THAT MEANS YOU”RE A WINNER!” Well, I just about gagged.
Another blur later, I somehow managed to collect a bouquet in front of Michael Kors, Bette Midler and her family, God, and Baby Jesus, and waddled my fat padded ass off stage without falling off of my heels.
After the show, she did in fact come out to take pictures with us. I haunted the background as I had already had my moment in the sun, and watched as Matthew and Charlotte took photos with her–all the while BEAMING. It was wonderful seeing that experience on someone else from the outside.
“What was she like?” That’s all I’ve heard. Well, it wasn’t my first time seeing her up close in person. She’s PETITE. I have to say. Â Something I noticed when I got her autograph a couple of years ago at “I’ll Eat You Last” is her skin; it’s amazing. She looks incredible. Here was an almost 70 year-old woman in gothic smokey eye shadow, and she looked like a goddess. And those HANDS! Those TINY, delicate, little, hula hands!!! She was more patient and accommodating than I’ve ever given her credit. She was everything I ever hoped for. My experience with Bette Midler was monumental.
I also had a chance to meet Bob DeMora, her longtime costume designer known for every look we all really remember her for. BIG deal for me! But the real highlight of the evening was going through this experience with Matthew and Charlotte and other Betteheads, because they understood better than anybody the magic the evening held for us, and were so genuinely happy to witness each of us have our moment. It’s really a sisterhood.
The only negative to the evening came afterward when I bittersweetly realized that Halloween–my favorite holiday ever and for always–will forever NEVER compare to Halloween 2015. The best Halloween of my life. How ever will I EVER top that one?
Finally (and aren’t you happy about THAT!?) Â I have to say that the outpouring of love from you all in the wake of this evening has warmed me to tears often. It means the world to me to see so many people happy for me after such a dark couple of months. I got my Moment in the sun, and now all I want to do is help you all find yours too.
I love you guys.